Two meanings of "private"

Megan McArdle ably expresses something we were arguing about recently at Cassandra's place: the recent trend to consider everything people do together as some aspect of "government":
In the 19th century, the line between the individual and the government was just as firm as it is now, but there was a large public space in between that was nonetheless seen as private in the sense of being mostly outside of government control -- which is why we still refer to “public" companies as being part of the “private" sector. Again, in the context of largely negative rights, this makes sense. You have individuals on one end and a small state on the other, and in the middle you have a large variety of private voluntary institutions that exert various forms of social and financial coercion, but not governmental coercion -- which, unlike other forms of coercion, is ultimately enforced by the government’s monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.
McArdle's context (like Bookworm's) is the Hobby Lobby decision, and the progressives' conviction that not forcing an employer to buy an employee's abortifacient is the same thing as allowing a religious fanatic employer to impose its crazed right-wing views on helpless employees.

H/t Bookworm Worm.


Ymar Sakar said...

The slaves think they are free, as usual.

Grim said...

It does seem that there's been a collapse in the meaning of "private" from:

1) Anything that is not within the very limited sphere of government is private.


2) Private is limited to that kept within the intimate spheres of the home or the body.

We see this in the gun rights debate too. Most gun control advocates are, after Heller, willing to concede that you have some sort of gun rights. They just don't extend beyond your front door -- or to any sort of weapon that might shoot so far.

But this has collapsed the definitions of private and intimate, to the advantage of an expanding public. To stick your head out of your home -- for example, to earn a living in the market, as all must -- is then to surrender all "private" rights.